Q+A: Best of News Design

The deadline to submit entries for SND’s 31st Best of News Design competition is looming. (January 13th for US entries, January 20 for non-US entries.) A team of judges and facilitators are prepared to descend upon snowy Syracuse University early this year to sift through countless tearsheets in search of the best editorial design 2009 had to offer.

As this year’s competition coordinator, the fine folks at SND have asked me to answer a few questions:

1. When I edit my entries, what should I be looking for?

Remember that your entries will be laid out on tables with hundreds of other tearsheets from around the world. So you’ve got to stand out. I like to spread all of my potential entries out on a large table. The ones that I am immediately drawn to are the first to be sent to Syracuse.

As a general rule consider these things when putting your entry together:

  • Creativity – We all receive the same press kits and similar photo feeds. Did you do something that sets your page apart from the pack?
  • Originality – You may have a very creative solution to your design problem – but, if judges have seen something similar in the past, they may pass it by.
  • Quality – The best ideas done poorly often end up on the cutting room floor. Remember that your entries should be technically superior – not just pretty.
  • Effectiveness – The role of the newspaper is communication. So, does your entry achieve that? That local story was HUGE for your readers and you played it appropriately. But when the judges (who may have never even heard of your event) look at the page, will the immediately understand why it was such a big deal?

2. What is the biggest mistake people make when entering their work in the competition?

There are lots of mistakes that are made:

  • Sometimes you’ll see what would be an award-winning illustration entered in a page design category overlooked because the overall design of the page isn’t strong enough.
  • I have seen poor editing reduce an entry from being a medal winner to an Award of Excellence, or even keep it from winning an award all together. Remember, just because your package spans multiple pages doesn’t mean you need to include all of them.
  • Portfolios are SIX pages and SIX pages only.

3. Does neatness count when preparing your entries?

Treat your entries with the care that you would use preparing your portfolio to be sent to a potential employer. You want the judges to remember your work for things like use of typography or a wonderful illustration, not the huge rip down the center of your page.

Also take care to neatly fill out the entry forms. (An editable entry form PDF here.) The small staff responsible for all of our data entry will appreciate it. (Illegible entry forms can lead to disqualification.)

4. How should I determine what names to put on an entry?

This varies greatly. Some publications choose to enter everything as a staff entry. Others list every person who came in contact with the page. As a general rule, I try to list everyone who had a significant contribution to the page.

Just make sure you don’t leave anyone out. Once the entry has been sent to Syracuse, you cannot add names to the form. You can only correct their spelling.

5. If I’ve left a publication, can I still enter my work? Can my former publication enter my work without giving me credit?

You can, and they can. I’ve seen both.

As an individual, you can submit any work you did during the last year. The publication also has the right to submit any work done by its staff. As I stated before, it’s up to each publication to determine whose names end up on the entry form.

6. What categories are non-newspaper magazines eligible for?

We have greatly expanded the categories for magazines this year. In past years, the competition has only been open to magazines tied to a newspaper. This year it is open to any magazine.

The categories magazines are eligible for are clearly spelled out in the Call for Entries. In some cases, magazines are excluded from a category – but will have a similar sub-category where they can enter. We have done this to make sure the judges are comparing apples to apples. While the content may be similar, there can be a large difference between the formats.

Magazines are eligible for:

  • Category 5: Special News Topics
  • Category 8D: Portfolio/Page Designer
  • Category 9: Special Coverage/Single Subject
  • Category 11: Reprints
  • Category 12: Magazines
  • Category 13: Illustration
  • Category 14: Photography/Single Photos
  • Category 15: Photography/Multiple Photos
  • Category 16: Information Graphics
  • Category 17 Information Graphics/Portfolios
  • Category 18: Redesigns
  • Category 19: Miscellaneous

7. I don’t have a printed copy of something I want to enter. Can I submit reproductions or printouts or PDFs of my pages?

PDFs and printouts are not eligible for entry in the Best of News competition. Reprints may be entered – but only in Category 11. The long-standing intention of this rule is to level the field so that judges are reviewing what readers see.

8. Can I enter the same work in different categories?

You can – and it happens a lot. You’ll see the same page entered as an illustration and a feature page – or see the same package submitted as a front page, breaking news, special news topic and reprint entry.

Take a look at past annuals and you’ll find pages listed as “multiple winners.” These will give you a good idea of what kinds of entries work well in multiple categories.

9. I have something that didn’t print very well but I would like to enter it. Does printing quality count?

Printing quality does count in the SND competition – but it’s not the only thing judges are looking for. If you have an entry that you feel rises above any technical issues you have encountered, I would encourage you to send it in.

10. If we used a visual that was not first-use, can we still enter it?

First-use photos, information graphics and illustrations are required for their specific categories (13-17), but may be incorporated into other entries.

11. Any parting thoughts?

  • Non-English entries should include a translation of the important display copy on the back of the page. Most often a headline is enough, but some high-concept designs may need a little more explanation to bridge the language barrier.
  • Don’t overlook the Miscellaneous category. Do you have a high-concept piece that requires some explanation as to why it was so successful? Here’s your chance. Every entry in Category 19 is required to have a note which explains why it was submitted. It’s a great chance to showcase your ideas that were bigger than the printed page.
  • Looking forward to the 32nd competition – WE NEED JUDGES. The nomination list used by the competition committee to select judges each year is getting thinner. (Not that there aren’t some great names in there still – as you’ll see when we unveil this year’s selections in February.) While the competition is fresh in your mind, please take this opportunity to send in a couple of judge nominations. They don’t have to work for newspapers (or magazines), they just need to be someone you feel would make a good judge.

Judges are selected from the list of nominees provided by members of SND. Full details on where to send your nomination (and all the information that is needed) can be found here.

Any questions about the competition can be addressed to me or Competition Director Marshall Matlock.

Mike Rice, the visual team leader for design and graphics at the Arizona Daily Star, is SND’s 31st Edition Competition Coordinator.